AMM Screens’ hand-made books are vividly hued and intricately sketched.
At a modest workshop on a small by-lane in Perungudi, global records are being made – by hand. Right now, led by C. Arumugam, 17 men are working overtime to deliver 5,000 copies of ‘Water Life’ (a spectacular book that sports the Bihari folk art of Mithila painting) for Tara Books, with 1,000 copies demanded from Japanese book stores alone. “The 1,000 copies of ‘Water Life’ that we sent earlier to Japan got sold out in a month,” says Arumugam with a touch of pride.
Well, AMM Screens, which hand-makes these vividly coloured and intricately sketched screen-printed books featuring Indian folk art, is perhaps the largest one of its kind in the world, having created over 200,000 handmade books so far.
World over, handmade books are made in editions of just tens or hundreds. Here, it is to the tune of thousands. Some of these books have won awards at international book fairs, such as the Bologna Ragazzi award (bagged by Tara’s ‘Night Life of Trees’).
Folk art abroad
It all began 17 years ago with the making of ‘The Very Hungry Lion’ based on the Warli tribal art of western India, which went on to sell over 40,000 copies. By now, this team has created such handmade books in 11 languages including English, Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish, which has taken Indian folk art forms such as Gond (Madhya Pradesh), Patachitra (Orissa), Warli (Maharashtra), Patua (West Bengal), Mithila (Bihar), Meena (Rajasthan), Kalamkari (Andhra Pradesh) and Mata Ni Pachedi (Gujarat) to countries around the world. These handmade books are a hit abroad.
“It is amazing that Tara keeps the pricing low. European handmade books cost several hundred dollars per book,” remarks Bess Frimodig, a Bangkok-based artist and sculptor, who is visiting AMM Screens to understand the production process. The books are printed on handmade paper (made from cotton cloth waste, tree bark, rice husk or grass) sourced from Erode and Karnataka, with Kappa boards (for the hardbound covers) shipped from Germany.
The men at AMM have all learnt the craft on the job. “We don’t teach too much, except the basics. They innovate,” Arumugam says. For instance, Neelakandan uses sand placed on a cloth to expose the nylon screen to create images on it, whereas abroad, machinery is used for the same purpose.
“Sand being flexible, you can spread it around to generate uniform pressure over as large an area as you wish”, he points out. The only machines used here are the trimming machine that trims the edges of the handmade paper prints into straight edges, and the pressure press to flatten the papers. Oil-based non-toxic ink is used. Each colour is screen printed on the paper separately. So if there are to be 50 shades of colour on a page, 50 impressions have to be made in succession on the same paper and dried after each imprint, which makes the production a little tedious. But the effect is well worth the effort.
There is zero wastage of these laboriously screen-printed pages, as even the prints that go awry are used as design covers for the ‘Fluke’ notebooks AMM manufactures, so called because they sport one-of-its-kind covers, because you really can’t repeat identical mistakes when hand-making screen prints.
The charm of handmade books is in its three-way impact - the visual, the tactile-textural and the intellectual impact of the text. If you are curious about this ‘book art,’ check out Tara’s exhibition that showcases this production process or contact 24426696 for visiting the workshop.